Messmer Catholic Schools to honor longtime leader, school-choice advocate

Last fall, the longtime leader of Messmer Catholic Schools, Brother Bob Smith, suddenly stepped down from his post because of health concerns.

Despite his retirement, his legacy as a champion of the city's voucher system and his leadership in re-shaping and integrating the north side Catholic school system has not been forgotten, and an event next week aims to honor his contributions to the city's education landscape.

Messmer will feature Smith at its annual Portraits of Leadership event Monday headlined by former Gov. Tommy G. Thompson at the Pfister Hotel. The event honors educators whose leadership goes above the norm.

Smith played a pivotal role in the school choice movement, in which he advocated for parents' rights to choose a school — private or public — that was in the best interest of their child, regardless of their family's economic standing.

The city's urban school voucher program began in 1990 and continues to be subject to controversy because it allows taxpayer dollars to support private, mostly religious schools. But Smith saw the expansion of the choice program as vital to pulling children and families out of poverty.
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